Government Transparency and Data Privacy Law in Ohio
The Ohio Open Records Law is a law that was enacted to provide citizens of the state with the right to request access to certain government records and information. The law was passed in 1963 and outlines the steps that government and state agencies within Ohio must take to enable citizens of the state to request access to their respective public records and information. To this point, the law also establishes the public records and information that are exempt from disclosure to the general public, as well as the penalties that government agencies within Ohio stand to face should they be found to be in violation of the law.
How are public records defined under the law?
The Ohio Open Records Law defined public records as “any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, including an electronic record as defined in section 1306.01 of the Revised Code, created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its political subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.” As it relates to the scope and applicability of the law, the Ohio Open Records Law applies to all “kept by any public office, as well as records of both nonprofit and for-profit private schools.”
What are the requirements of state agencies under the law?
Some of the duties that state agencies have under the Ohio Open Records Law as it concerns public records and government information accessibility include the following:
- State agencies are required to provide public records to requestors via the method or medium that they have requested. However, requestors are also required to pay any applicable costs or fees.
- State agencies are prohibited from requesting an individual provide a reason when looking to access their public records. What’s more, the law also allows individuals to request access to public records anonymously.
- State agencies are responsible for redacting any personally identifiable or confidential information from their public records prior to disclosing them to a requestor. State agencies must also provide reasons for such redactions.
- State agencies are responsible for organizing and maintaining their public records in a manner that allows them to be available for both copying and inspection by members of the general public.
- State agencies are only permitted to charge an individual looking to access their public records fees related to the actual cost of making copies for said records, not labor. To this point, the law states that the charge for paper copies is 5 cents per page, while the cost for electronic files copied to a compact disc is one dollar per disc. Alternatively, there is no charge for emailed documents or records.
Under what circumstances can a requestor be denied under the law?
The Ohio Open Records Law mandates that state agencies are permitted to deny an individual’s request to access their public records if the request is too ambiguous, general, or broad. What’s more, state agencies also retain the right to deny a public record request in accordance with another state or federal law, such as the HIPAA or FERPA. With this being said, there are also numerous exceptions to the law. Some of these exceptions include but are not limited to:
- Parole or probation hearings.
- Hospital trade secrets.
- Trial preparation information.
- Law enforcement investigations.
- Intellectual property.
- Juvenile recreation information.
- Department of youth service records.
- Security and infrastructure records.
- Emergency management plans.
- Library records.
How can state agencies within Ohio comply with the law?
As the Ohio Open Records Law requires state agencies to both redact personally identifiable information from their public records prior to disclosing them to a requestor, as well as provide the requestor with a reason for their decision, they run the risk of violating the law even when providing an individual with the requested information. To avoid such violations, state agencies can look to automatic redaction software. These programs not only allow consumers to redact PDFs, documents, videos, and more automatically, but they also allow users to give attached reasons for these redactions. In this way, state agencies within Ohio can comply with the state Open Records Law, while still ensuring that they do not disclose any personal information in doing so.
While many U.S. state government transparency metrics, such as the BGA – Alper Integrity Index, have given the state of Ohio a failing grade as it concerns their open records legislation in years past, the law nevertheless provides citizens of the state with the opportunity to request access to certain government records and information. As such, these citizens can gain a better understanding of the manner in which their taxpayer dollars are being spent and allocated within their local jurisdictions, as this money forms the basis of public institutions and services within the state.